Review – The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming

TGirl under the olive tree by leah  flemingitle: The Girl Under the Olive Tree

Author: Leah Fleming

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: Dec 2012

Genre: Women’s Fiction; Historical Fiction

Source: Library

My Rating: 3.5/5

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Penny has many memories kept locked up in her mind and heart, but when she is invited to go to Crete with her family, she is forced to once again remember a life of war, lived long ago.

I have to admit I mainly chose this book due to the author’s name beginning with an ‘f’ which I needed for my A-Z author challenge I am doing this year with a penpal group on Goodreads. I was also drawn to it as I find books, both fictional and non-fiction about either of the world wars, very interesting.

The book is written in two points of view; that of Penny’s who was a Red Cross nurse during the war, and later, the view of a German soldier who was sent to Greece. There is also a flicking between two time periods – the time of the war, and the time when Penny is remembering.  To begin with this was very annoying as many of the ‘chapters’ of the present literally stated that Penny was remembering and therefore simply slowed the story down. However, in the second half of the book, the actions in the present are important to the discovery of the story, and give a greater understanding of the characters.

Personally I enjoyed having the two conflicting points of view, and seeing how the two main characters are linked with one another, even though they are on opposing sides. It is not a love story, though feels as though it could have been and the attraction between the two characters are played on a lot throughout the story.

Of course, when writing about any time in history, it can be difficult with hindsight, especially regarding the opinions of the main characters. There was a strong Jewish community in Crete which also played a main part in the story; however I feel the author has succeeded in not showing bias beyond the character’s own actions, which I was grateful for. Obviously the holocaust was horrific, but it can be easy to forget that the individuals all had their own reasons and motivations for their actions, regardless which side they fought on.

The Girl Under the Olive Tree is fictional, but it is clear the author has done her research and has created a cast of supporting characters that each have their own story; to the point of the reader wanting to know more about each of them.  I felt the book ended in a slightly strange way, almost as if there were to be a sequel. Part of me enjoys this open ending as it leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think happens next, though this kind of ending didn’t quite fit with the style of the rest of the story in my opinion.

Overall I enjoyed the story, though felt the second half of the book was written much better than the first half which is a shame as I feel a lot of people will likely give up before the story truly comes into its own because of the trudging speed of the narrative.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Second World War, especially how it affected individuals in a German-occupied country, or those specifically interested in the history of Crete.

Review: The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman

The Christmas Cookie ClubTitle: The Christmas Cookie Club

Author: Ann Pearlman

Publisher: Pocket Books

Published: Jan 2009

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Source: Bought at a charity shop

My Rating: 4/5

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Despite the fact that Christmas is my favourite time of year, I very rarely read fictional books about the season. However, when I saw The Christmas Cookie Club, I knew I had to give it a try, and I’m very glad I did.

The first thing that struck me was the fact that each chapter is preceded by a cookie recipe, and to begin with those chapters seem to focus on the character whose cookie it is. As you get further into the story and learn about all twelve of the women in the club, the chapters become less focused on one particular character.

There wasn’t really much of a plot, but as we get further into the book the more back story we discover about each woman, and how being a member of the Christmas cookie club has or is changing their lives.  While some heavy issues are included in the novel, none of them were delved into deeply and so the book easily keeps the feel of a light and easy read to enjoy over the holidays.

One thing I’m unsure whether I liked or not was the description and information about each ingredient between the chapters.  While I found it interesting, it didn’t seem to support the main character’s story or characterisation, and generally took me out of the closeness the women have with one another in the group.

Overall this is a book I feel I could read again (and I hope to try a few of the recipes), and is a very enjoyable festive read. I would recommend it to anyone looking for stories about female friendship and want something that will give them hope with a little Christmassy spirit.